I think, as parents, it’s in our DNA to want our children to be like us. (After all, they have our God-given DNA, right?) It’s not that we think we’re perfect, but, being human, we’re comfortable with ourselves. We feel like the blood of OUR blood, flesh of OUR flesh should at least have the decency to have the same hobbies, like the same books, television shows, sports, music, etc. that we like. When they veer, as they always do (or so I hear – do they?), we are often angry with them – not in a direct way and not even in a way any of us would really admit, even to ourselves (hey, we’re not monsters!), but in a muted, silent, slight aura of disappointment, like they didn’t quite turn out ‘right’, as we thought they should have. We all want to relive, through our kids, the life we had or even wished we would have had.
I remember as a child how much my dad seemed to want me to like baseball. We would practice for hours (or so it seemed), past when I was ready to go into the house and curl up with a good book I had been reading. Back then I never really caught on to the whole sports thing. Being a Tennessee family, I also remember Dad liking the Vols, but I couldn’t have cared less. For some reason, whether it was other interests, athleticism (or lack thereof), or something else, sports just wasn’t my thing. Every time I struck out, which was most of the time, I knew I was disappointing my team, but I felt like I was disappointing my dad. Year after year I played, until high school when I finally gave it up for good. Dad didn’t make me keep playing all those years, but I wanted to please him, so I did. If I could ever just get ahold of a ball, maybe smack a home run, or shag a difficult ball in right field, I just knew he’d love it.
I never did any of those things, not that I can remember. I never went into the service and become a fighter pilot either, another career aspiration I held because of Dad’s military career and interest in aviation. Instead I went to business school, got an 8-5 desk job, got married, and had children of my own. I realized that many of the things I did and said I wanted to do was because of a desire, every child’s innate desire, to please my parents, particularly my father. I remember looking up to him so much (still do!). Through the glass of my childhood eyes, he cut an impressive figure, so strong, so in control – nothing ever phased him. I wanted to be like him, but my ‘bent’, my DNA, though half of it was his, seemed to lean the other way. I was clumsy, un-athletic. Though he never told me I disappointed him, though he told me he was proud of me, often said encouraging things, still, deep down, sometimes I felt like I did.
They weren’t perfect of course, but my parents were wonderful. It’s not just because they are alive and will probably read this, but they really, truly were. While my overall childhood experience was something I wouldn’t trade for anything, I would certainly have rather not had those feelings of ‘not measuring up.’ The hard part is, I’m not sure there is anything my father (or mother) could have done differently. As a father myself, that’s pretty scary. We are human, after all. How do we keep our own ambitions and expectations for our children from creating that small, gnawing seed of doubt in their minds that they are somehow coming short when they don’t fulfill them?
During this past UpWard season, when I got to coach Nathaniel’s basketball team, I found myself in my dad’s shoes, albeit in a different sport. It is SO HARD not to be hard on him, not to push him just a little more than the others. I keep asking myself “Is he enjoying it?” I think he is – at least he tells me he is, but sometimes, being a 7 year old boy, he doesn’t ‘feel’ like practicing. So how much do I make him? How much do I pull back? Sometimes I can’t help but see myself in him. I want him to know that I’m proud of him no matter what path he chooses (within legal and moral bounds of course!), but I also recognize that a child, being a child, doesn’t always know what’s good for him. It’s the reason we make our older kids take piano – they’ll appreciate it when they are old but not necessarily now. It’s the reason that I force them (Nathaniel and Abby both so far) to ride their bike without training wheels even though they are scared at first. I know they’ll enjoy it later (turns out I was right – they both love riding, and both have thanked me for making them learn).
Interestingly, I’ve come full circle. Of course I’m my own person and I’ll never completely be like my dad (or anybody else for that matter), but I’ve come to realize that I’m more like him than I knew. I understand the reason Dad made me practice ball (among other things). Today I enjoy sports more than I ever did as a kid, and that’s thanks to my Dad. I’m far from an athlete, but what little athleticism I do have, the athleticism that allows me to play and have fun at a variety of sports, I have my dad and those long hours of baseball workouts to thank. I didn’t like it then, but I’m thankful for them now. In fact, just the other day he and I had a long conversation about this very thing (giving me the idea for this blog post!).
I sometimes feel bad that I wasn’t interested in those things, or the Tennessee Vols, back when I was a kid. I think my Dad would have loved it if I had sat and watched a game with him. But now, I’m a HUGE fan, thanks to my Dad, and we watch plenty of games together. A day will come when I would give a king’s ransom to watch a game, or pass baseball with my father. I think about that stuff when I do things with my kids. I want them to know they measure up, no matter what.